November 30, 2012 | Access and use are subject to your User Service Agreement.

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BEN ON A BROOMSTICK On Nov. 15, the editor of Grant's addressed the Investment Decisions and Behavioral Finance meeting at the Harvard Kennedy School. The text of his remarks follows. Good evening, Harvard! It is an honor and a pleasure to be with you to explore the connection between witchcraft and superstition, on the one hand, and modern central banking, on the other. I won't spend much time defining terms. Witches, as you know, cast spells, make storms and fly on goats or broomsticks to diabolical nighttime rendezvouses called sabbats. Modern central bankers override the price mechanism, conjure money from thin air and undertake to boost economic growth by raising up stock prices. I began thinking about witchcraft in the context of central banking a few months ago. The 2012 Republican Party platform pledged a victorious Romney administration to form a commission to study a return to the Gold standard. Some commended this plank, others criticized it--and some sarcastically suggested that the Republicans, as long as they were at it, might as well study the revival of witchcraft. These derisive allusions reminded me of an essay by the British historian H.R. Trevor-Roper entitled, "The European Witch Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries." In it, Trevor-Roper sends up a warning against the common presumption that the history of thought traces a straight line from the darkness to the light. Far from it, as the historian shows by citing in evidence the outbreak of "dark passions and inflammable credulities" amidst the ...

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